Crate training is a great tool for housebreaking a puppy. A dog crate can also provide a safe haven for your puppy long after he's become an adult. If you plan on using a crate to train a puppy, it's vital that you take the time to properly introduce him to the crate.
The following tips can help.
Choose the Right Size Crate
When it comes to crates, size matters. No matter which type of dog crate you choose, it's important that you pay close attention to the dimensions.
Crates should be large enough for a puppy to lie down and turn around in comfortably. A crate that is too small will leave your puppy cramped and uncomfortable. A crate that is too large may leave enough space for your puppy to sleep and have a separate spot to use as a potty area. Ensuring that your puppy easily gets used to his crate starts with choosing the crate that's the right size.
Make the Crate Comfortable
Before you introduce your puppy to the crate, try to make it as comfortable as possible. Most puppies aren't going to want to spend time lying on the cold, hard crate floor for very long. Start by adding something soft, warm, and preferably washable to the bottom of the crate. Small throw blankets, towels, or crate pads all work well. If your puppy soils his crate, however, the crate pad can be harder to clean.
There are also several products on the market designed to make a puppy's first days and nights in his new home easier. These are usually plush toys which allow you to tuck a hot water bottle inside or have devices that mimic the mother's heartbeat. Some puppy owners report having good luck with using these types of products, so you may want to consider adding one to the puppy's crate to make him more comfortable.
Make the Crate Interesting
Once you have comfort covered, it's time to start thinking about how to keep your puppy from getting bored in his crate. You may want to put some chew toys, stuffed animals, squeaky toys, or food dispensing toys in the crate. For the best results, try putting two or three toys in at a time, and rotate the toys every few days or so. This way, your puppy finds something new and interesting every time he enters his crate.
Let the Puppy Explore on His Own
Now that the crate is prepared, it's time to bring the puppy in. Don't push him into the crate and close the door behind him the first time he sees it. Instead, allow him time to explore the crate on his own. Let him walk in and out of the crate at will. If the puppy seems hesitant to step into the crate, try throwing a few treats inside.
Shut the Door for Short Periods
Once the puppy has gotten comfortable walking in and out of the crate, you can begin closing the door behind him. Start off with short periods, no more than a few minutes each time, and work up to longer periods.
When you first close the crate door, stay in the room. After the puppy has been able to stay calm once the door has been closed a few times, start stepping outside of the room. The first time, simply step out for a few seconds and then come back into the room. Don't make a big deal, and don't immediately open the crate door. Slowly work your way up to leaving your puppy in the closed crate for longer periods.
Never Leave the Puppy too Long
While a dog crate is a great tool for managing your puppy's behavior when you are unable to supervise him, it's not meant to be the place he spends all his time. So, how long is too long to leave the puppy in the crate?
Since your puppy will be uncomfortable if he eliminates in his crate, it's important that you don't leave him in a crate for longer than he can hold his bladder or bowels. Puppies under six months of age should not be left in a crate for more than 3 or 4 hours at a time. Young puppies may need even shorter periods in the crate to prevent having accidents in there.